U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, just finished speaking at the Transportation and Infrastructure Summit in Irving. She left before the servers brought out roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and bacon-speckled spinach. But she did address a crowd of about 500 people for about 15 minutes.
Among the highlights:
After years of Texas leaders complaining that Texas isn't getting its fair share of motor fuels taxes paid by motorists, things have finally evened out. The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, recently put out a report concluding that Texas is now getting 99 percent of what it pays into the system, Hutchison said.
For years, Texas was among the handful of donor states -- those with high gas tax receipts and enormous highway needs -- that put more tax money into the federal Highway Trust Fund than they received. Hutchison several years ago pushed for a change in federal transportation law that ensured Texas received at least 92 cents of every dollar in federal tax paid into the system. In previous years, the total had been as little as 76 cents for every dollar (give or take a few pennies, depending upon who was doing the math).
Recent decisions by Congress to put billions of extra dollars from the federal government's general fund into the nearly-insolvent highway trust fund have helped swing the pendulum back in Texas' favor, so the state now gets back most of the gas tax money it sends to Washington. But Hutchison cautioned that it may only be a temporary situation, and that Texas could again become a donor state.
"Texas has a double-whammy -- it has the most highway miles of any state, and it's a high-growth state," Hutchison told the summit crowd.
She still has a bill pending that would allow states to opt out of the highway trust fund.
"Our national highway system has been built out," she said. "There's no longer a need to be giving this money to other states. Other states have the capacity to build these highways themselves."
Congress likely won't debate reauthorization of a multi-year transportation bill until 2011, Hutchison said.
The Trans Texas Corridor appears to be dead, she said. Hutchison, who unsuccessfully ran against Gov. Rick Perry in the Republican primary, opposed Perry's vision to criss-cross the state with toll roads and rail lines. The Texas Department of Transportation pulled the plug on the project in 2009, although some staunch critics have alleged the agency is still planning the project behind the scenes.
"Thank goodness, it has been said it is dead," she said. "I hope it is. I think it was going to trample private property rights."